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‘All the Light We Cannot See’ series review: Top-notch cast and crew cannot save this atonal period piece

By Sampad Nov7,2023
A still from ‘All the Light We Cannot See’

A still from ‘All the Light We Cannot See’
| Photo Credit: Netflix

A blind French girl, an orphan German boy with a genius for radios, a cursed diamond with a driven SS officer hot on its trail, a kindly father, a traumatised WWI veteran and a gracious, crumbling old house upon an island under siege during WWII, should have been the ingredients for cracker of a film.

That this Shawn Levy-helmed vehicle, written and developed by Steven Knight, is an underwhelming silly mess makes one weep bitter tears for lost opportunities. Based on Anthony Doerr’s eponymous Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 novel, All the Light We Cannot See has a stellar cast including Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie in its ranks apart from Dark’s Louis Hofmann.

Like the book, the mini-series also alternates between the stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc (Aria Mia Loberti, an assured debut), the blind girl, and Werner Pfennig (Hofmann), the tech whiz. After the fall of Paris, Marie and her father, Daniel (Ruffalo), leave for the island of Saint-Malo, where Daniel’s uncle, Etienne (Laurie), lives in a grand, ruined house with his sister, Madame Manec (Marion Bailey).

Before they leave Paris, Daniel, who was a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History, tries to save the museum’s treasures including the fabulous Sea of Flames, a beautiful and cursed diamond. Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger), an SS officer in charge of getting all the gems from Europe for the Third Reich, becomes obsessed with the Sea of Flames.

All the Light We Cannot See – Season 1 (English)

Writer: Steven Knight

Director: Shawn Levy

Episodes: 4

Runtime: 52 – 62 minutes

Cast: Louis Hofmann, Lars Eidinger, Marion Bailey, Hugh Laurie, Mark Ruffalo, Aria Mia Loberti

Storyline: During the Battle of Saint-Malo, the lives of two teenagers collide as both struggle to do right by their conscience

We learn through flashbacks the lives of Marie and Werner before the 1944 Siege of Saint-Malo. Werner was taken from the orphanage when his talent with radios was discovered, and after a brutalizing time at the National Political Institute of Education, was forced to join the military. Marie and Werner are connected by an educational programme they both listened to on the short wave radio. When Werner hears Marie broadcasting from the same frequency, he is torn between the desire to keep her safe and his duty.

Despite being practically four hours long, we do not get any nuance or insight into the characters as everyone is painted in the broadest of strokes and say downright toe-curling lines. The Nazis especially are so dreadful that they end up looking cartoonish. Though Werner repeatedly says, ‘I have done bad things’, he continues to be golden and opaque — he did not need his hair flopping on his forehead to obscure his eyes and intentions.

Daniel rushes about, making detailed scale models of cities, which incidentally are exquisite, for Marie. We are told he is a scientific man but do not see much evidence of that either (He does put gemstones in the tyrannosaurus skull though). Laurie signifies Etienne’s PTSD with flashing eyes and floating hair, but all one is reminded of is the bleak, biting satire of Blackadder Goes Forth.

Maybe one could watch that for an anti-war message or fly with the cetaceans, inspired by Marie’s reading of Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’

All the Light We Cannot See is streaming on Netflix

By Sampad

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